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Legislative Updates — May 1, 2020

LITTLE ROCK – The next few weeks will determine whether Arkansas moves forward or backward on the way to re-opening businesses.

The governor and public health officials announced that state parks could once again accept overnight visitors, and restaurants could begin serving dine-in meals. However, they may not simply open their doors to customers - a lengthy list of restrictions will apply.

Customers must maintain social distancing. For example, a group at one table must be at least six feet from customers at another table. Restaurants may only seat a third of their total capacity at one time. Customers must wear a face mask until their food arrives.

If the restaurant has a bar, it must remain closed. Entertainment areas also will remain closed, so there will not be live music during this phase of re-opening.

Restaurants cannot offer self-service, so there will not be any buffet lines. Groups of more than 10 customers will not be allowed. Staff will wear masks, and wash their hands frequently.

Staff must wear gloves, which they must wash the gloves or change them frequently. Wearing the same pair of gloves for long periods of time is the same as not wearing them. Staff will be screened daily for fever.

Tables must be cleaned and disinfected after each meal. Customers are encouraged to call in their orders ahead of time and make reservations.

The limited re-opening of restaurants will begin on May 11.

To help restaurants and other businesses purchase the protective equipment they will need in order to re-open, the state has begun a new grant program called Arkansas Ready for Business. It will be administered by the Arkansas Department of Commerce.

One goal is to help businesses with the costs of opening again, and another goal is to reassure consumers that it will be safe to visit the re-opened businesses.

On May 15, Arkansas residents will be able to camp overnight at state parks in self-contained RV’s.

State parks can re-open lodges and cabins for rental.

The parks will also open their museums, gift shops and restaurants. Exhibits, golf pro shops and marinas also will open. At all facilities, limited attendance restrictions will apply, as well as social distancing requirements.

The facilities will be open only on weekends, so that staff has time to disinfect during the week.

Popular trails at Pinnacle Mountain, Devil’s Den and Petit Jean must remain closed.

Announcements on the planned re-openings of gyms, barbershops, beauty parlors and churches were scheduled soon after those on restaurants and parks.

Voting places

The secretary of state will make $4.7 million in federal funds available to counties to help them cope with problems caused by the coronavirus outbreak. For example, counties may need to hire additional poll workers and rent additional space at polling places, so that they can spread out voting machines.

Also, poll workers will use more cleaning supplies and disinfectants. Voting officials anticipate that many people will choose to vote with absentee ballots. That will increases costs for postage and envelopes.

Counties also expect additional costs to communicate with voters about changes in voting procedures.


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